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Pregnancy and Signs of Labor

How Do I Know When to Go to the Hospital?

When you think you are in true labor, start timing your contractions. To do this, write down the time each contraction starts and stops or have someone do it for you. The time between contractions includes the length or duration of the contraction and the minutes in between the contractions (called the interval).

Mild contractions generally begin 15 to 20 minutes apart and last 60 to 90 seconds. The contractions become more regular until they are less than 5 minutes apart. Active labor (the time you should come into the hospital) is usually characterized by strong contractions that last 45 to 60 seconds and occur three to four minutes apart.

What Can I Do to Relieve Labor Pain?

The first stage of labor (called the Latent Phase) is best experienced in the comfort of your home. Here are some tips to help you cope:

  • Try to distract yourself -- take a walk, watch a movie.
  • Soak in a warm tub or take a warm shower. But, ask your health care provider if you can take a tub bath if your water has broken.
  • Try to sleep or take a nap if it is in the evening. You need to store up your energy for active labor.

What Happens When My Water Breaks During Labor?

The rupture of the amniotic membrane (the fluid-filled sac that surrounds the baby during pregnancy) may feel either like a sudden gush of fluid or a trickle of fluid that leaks steadily. The fluid is usually odorless and may look clear or straw-colored. If your "water breaks," write down the time this occurs, how much fluid is released, and what the fluid looks like, and then notify your health care provider. Although labor may not start immediately after your water breaks, delivery of your baby will occur within the next 24 hours.

Lastly, keep in mind that not all women will have their water break when they are in labor. Many times the doctor will rupture the amniotic membrane in the hospital.

What Is Effacement and Dilation of the Cervix?

During labor, your cervix gets shorter and thins out in order to stretch and open around your baby's head. The shortening and thinning of the cervix is called effacement. Your health care provider will be able to tell you if there are changes to the cervix during a pelvic exam. Effacement is measured in percentages from 0% to 100%. If there are no changes to the cervix, it is described as 0% effaced. When the cervix is half the normal thickness, it is 50% effaced. When the cervix is completely thinned out, it is 100% effaced.

The stretching and opening of your cervix is called dilation and is measured in centimeters, with complete dilation being at 10 centimeters.

Effacement and dilation are a direct result of effective uterine contractions. Progress in labor is measured by how much the cervix has opened and thinned to allow your baby to pass through the vagina.

WebMD Medical Reference

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